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A Country Study - Israel

A Country Study - Israel

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Published by: Able Rasman on Aug 25, 2011
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04/03/2012

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Sephardic chief rabbi, Orthodox woman with wrapped bandana, and Arab male with qafiyah

ISRAELI GOVERNMENTAL AND POLITICAL structures stem from certain premises and institutional
arrangements generally associated with West European parliamentary democracies, East European and
Central European institutions and traditions, and even some Middle Eastern sociopolitical patterns. These
influences were transmitted though the unique history, political culture, and political institutions of Israel's
formative prestate period and the Middle Eastern environment in which it is situated. The legitimacy of Israeli
society and the identification by the majority Jewish population with the state and its institutions rest on
several foundations: Zionist Jewish nationalism, the existence of an outside threat to Israeli security, Judaism,
collectivism, and democracy. These bases are affected by the Arab/Palestinian−Israeli conflict (hereafter the
Arab−Israeli conflict) and by the pluralist nature of Israeli society, in which a substantial Arab minority
participates in the country's political system, but has an ambivalent role within the majority Jewish society
(see Minority Groups , ch. 2).

The Israeli political system is characterized by certain West European democratic arrangements: elected
government, multiparty competition, a high level of voter participation in local and national elections, an
independent judiciary that is the country's foremost guardian of civil liberties, a vigorous and free press, and
the supremacy of civilian rule. Other features, such as collectivism and a lack of expension of the liberal
component in Israeli politics, are distinctly East European and Central European in origin. These features are
expressed by the absence of a written constitution limiting the powers of government and imposing restraints
on the majority to safeguard the rights of individuals, particularly in matters of civil rights and relations
between state and religious interests. In the late 1980s, increasing disagreement over some fundamental
questions, for instance, the state's territorial boundaries and the role of religion in the state, led to a breakdown
in the pre−1967 national consensus over such issues. Such disagreement has resulted in intense ideological
polarization as reflected in electoral and parliamentary stalemates between the two major political
parties—Likud (Union) and the Israel Labor Party (generally referred to as the Labor Party or simply
Labor)— and their allies.

Israel, a country study

CHAPTER 4. Government and Politics

125

In July 1984, the political system faced a challenge of unprecedented magnitude. For the first time in the
country's thirty−six−year postindependence history, neither major party was able to form a coalition
government without the other's equal participation. The result, the National Unity Government formed in
September 1984, represented a milestone in the country's political development. That development had
already undergone an unprecedented shock in May 1977, when the left−of−center Labor Party was voted out
of office for the first time after nearly half a century of unbroken political dominance in pre− and post−state
Israel. In 1977 a newly mandated regime was ushered in under Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who led the
right−of−center Likud Bloc and who differed sharply with the Labor Party over political philosophy and both
domestic and foreign policy. Likud was reconfirmed in power by the 1981 elections, but it suffered an almost
irreparable blow with Begin's resignation in September 1983, which followed a series of failed policies
concerning the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and the domestic economy. The less charismatic and more cautious
Yitzhak Shamir succeeded Begin. Under the terms of the National Unity Government, established in
September 1984, the leader of the Labor Party, Shimon Peres, was entrusted with the formation of a
government with himself as prime minister, on the written understanding that he would relinquish the prime
ministership in two years' time—halfway through the parliamentary term—to his designated “vice prime
minister” (or vice premier) Shamir. The next elections to the Knesset (parliament—see Glossary) were held in
November 1988; by reproducing the same inconclusive electoral results as in 1984, they led to the formation
of a second Likud−and−Labor−led National Unity Government, except that this time Labor joined as a junior
partner. Following a period of protracted coalition bargaining, Shamir was reinstated as prime minister, with
Peres moving from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Ministry of Finance. Moshe Arens, a former Likud
minister of defense and a Shamir ally, was appointed minister of foreign affairs, and Labor's Yitzhak Rabin
became minister of defense.

From 1984 to 1988, the National Unity Government acted as a joint executive committee of Labor and Likud.

Under its direction, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) withdrew to an Israeli−dominated security zone in
southern Lebanon; Israel's runaway inflation, which had plagued the economy under previous Likud rule, was
curbed; and divisive political debates on major national issues were, to some extent, subdued (see The
Economic Stabilization Program of July 1985 , ch. 3). Nevertheless, on major issues such as participation in
United States−sponsored peace initiatives to resolve the Arab−Israeli conflict, the exchange of “land for
peace,” and the political future of the West Bank (see Glossary) and Gaza Strip territories, unity between
Labor and Likud was lacking. The unity cabinet became deadlocked as each partner continuously strove to
advance its own foreign policy agenda. In the latter half of the unity government's term, from 1986 to 1988,
consensus on domestic issues disintegrated as the parties prepared for the 1988 Knesset elections. For the
most part, this breakdown in consensus continued following the elections; although the United States began a
dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the government continued to preserve the status
quo on security issues.

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